Mario Joyner enjoys his freedom.
“I do only what I want to do and nothing that I don’t. I just work out, eat, sleep, date, tell jokes. That’s all I do really,” the charming – and unsurprisingly very chilled out – comedian tells me in the lounge of a swanky seafront hotel.
“I have such a relaxed life, simply because I have no-one to answer to. I’m 47-years-old, I have no kids, I have no wife, it’s just me. I can go when I want. I can wake up when I want, I have no need for alarm clocks, I have no real job – this is no real job,” he says, somewhat modestly – on 11 November he’ll have been doing standup comedy for 25 years.
He’s been funny for a lot longer. One of eight children, “comedy was a way of escaping the mayhem of seven brothers and sisters”, the preacher’s son grins. “Around the age of 10 I used to make up little stories of imaginary friends that I would have. And when my parents would take us on drives, I would always make up funny stories and songs about what we saw along the way.”
It would be a few years before Joyner took his stories to the stage. A successful 400m hurdler in high school, he landed a university scholarship – later qualifying for the 1984 Olympic trials. But off the track and outside the Information Systems lectures, he continued to feel the pull of comedy.
“I always knew before I finished college, I’m going to have to try this standup thing,” he says now. So in his final year, aged 21, he “just went in and tried it out”.
“I just started doing it. And before I graduated, I was making about $50 a set or something and I decided not to look for a job.”
Within three years he’d moved from Pittsburgh to New York, along the way becoming friends with a couple of young comics like himself. Their names? Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock.
Joyner picks up the story: “I met Jerry about 23 years ago, a year or so before I met Chris, at a comedy club in St Louis called The Funny Bone. And I went and introduced myself and he wouldn’t let me in the room. He was like: ‘Who’s this strange guy?’
“But that’s comedians. You’ll meet like that, but the bond is so strong.” Case in point: Joyner appeared in a little sitcom called ‘Seinfeld’, last year’s ‘Bee Movie’ and still features in ‘Everybody Hates Chris’, all the while supporting Rock on his international comedy tours.
“We’re just friends now, basically,” Joyner explains.
“Comedians stay in touch. You really want to be around comedians when you’re trying to be a comic. Especially when you’re getting started out, you’ve got to be around comedians 24/7 because you’ve got to see what’s going on, what’s happening.
“You’ll talk about stuff, you’ll try to be funny about this, you’ll try to beat this guy to the laugh, what’s my take on this particular thing that I saw happen? It’s about seeing what other people are doing, it’s to your benefit so they don’t get ahead of you.”
But the competitive streak doesn’t hang around this laidback zone too long.
“Competitiveness is as much a problem as it is a way to get ahead. You can be too competitive – I’m not trying to kill nobody. So you beat me, fine. People that have beat me, can’t believe they have beat me sometimes. They go: ‘I know he’s better than that’.
“I’m an 80 percenter, I use 80 percent. I can do something 80 percent well without ever trying, so why try and make the other 20 percent? I’m a B student throughout life.
“I just like to laugh.”
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.